In a desperate bid to save 40 workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in Uttarakhand, India is turning to international expertise. Drawing inspiration from Thailand’s successful 2018 cave rescue operation, officials have sought advice from the Thai company that miraculously saved a junior football team and their coach from the Tham Luang cave complex.
Global Assistance Sought
As the rescue efforts entered their fourth day, India reached out to the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute for assistance. The collaboration aims to leverage the expertise of engineering professionals in soil and rock mechanics to expedite the evacuation.
Challenges in the Rescue Operation
Initial attempts to create an escape passage using an ‘auger machine’ faced setbacks. The slow progress and technical issues with the first drilling machine prompted the arrival of a new, high-capacity machine from New Delhi. Despite concerns about its effectiveness, rescue workers are pushing forward with the multi-agency operation.
At the site, workers expressed frustration over the perceived sluggishness of the operation. Chanting slogans at the tunnel’s entrance on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri National Highway, they voiced concerns about their trapped colleagues’ fate.
The Unfolding Drama
Tunnel Collapse Details
The collapsed tunnel, part of the ambitious Chardham All-Weather Road project, suffered a 30-meter section collapse on Sunday. Situated 270 meters from the tunnel’s mouth on the Silkyara side, authorities ensure that the trapped workers can access essential supplies like oxygen, electricity, medicines, food, and water through pipes.
Rescue Progress Updates
With a new drilling machine, rescue workers have drilled up to 24 meters through the rubble. The goal is to reach 60 meters to insert the necessary pipes for the workers’ safe escape. While progress is evident, the situation remains critical as the clock ticks on the trapped workers’ endurance.
Hope Amidst Challenges
International Aid Arrives
In a significant development, an American-made “horizontal dry drilling equipment with auger” has been flown in from Delhi. This advanced machinery is expected to cut through 70 meters of rock in 12 to 15 hours, offering a glimmer of hope for the trapped labourers.
Health Concerns and Ongoing Efforts
Despite facing minor health issues like headaches and nausea, the trapped workers receive essential medical supplies through a six-inch pipe. The rescue team, now equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, remains committed to the ‘trenchless’ technique, emphasizing the use of 900mm wide mild steel pipes for creating a safe passage.
Challenges and Contingency Plans
Slow Progress and Possible Obstacles
The detailed process of inserting pipes into the debris has encountered challenges, slowing the rescue timeline. Authorities, however, expressed optimism about bringing the labourers to safety within 12 to 15 hours. Contingency plans include dealing with potential obstructions like iron rods or additional rock falls.
Political Oversight and Public Response
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) closely monitors the rescue operation. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami assures that the priority is the safe evacuation of the 40 trapped labourers, deflecting questions about potential negligence in tunnel construction.
Concerns and Allegations
Worker Health and Alleged Negligence
As the rescue unfolds, reports emerge of workers facing health issues, including dizziness, nausea, fever, and body aches. Allegations of mistreatment of families outside the tunnel and coordination issues among officials during the rescue work add complexity to an already challenging situation.
In this high-stakes operation, every development is closely watched, and the world holds its breath, hoping for a successful resolution to the crisis in Uttarakhand.